Research has found that recognition in the workplace has a huge impact on employee engagement, retention, motivation, and satisfaction, as well as on feelings of trust and belonging in the workplace. It also effects how employees view their role and their work, with those who have experienced recognition and reward feeling more appreciated and happier in the workplace, feeling prouder of their work, having stronger employee relationships, and having more favourable attitudes towards their company. It’s quite clear that workplace appreciation and gratitude can have a host of beneficial impacts for the workplace – so what are the psychological mechanisms that are in play when it comes to the positive impacts of employee recognition? And what can companies do to ensure that their workforce feels valued and recognised?
The impact of gratitude
One of the most important factors involved in the beneficial impacts of workplace recognition is gratitude, and the psychological effects that gratitude has on us. When we are shown appreciation and gratitude, the hypothalamus area of the brain is activated, and the neurotransmitter dopamine is released – this neurotransmitter is often known as the “reward” neurotransmitter, as it feels good, and it results in us repeating the actions that result in its release. Therefore, when we are shown gratitude, in engages our brain in a virtuous cycle, that makes us re-engage in those behaviours which elicit gratitude and release dopamine.
These dopamine boosts not only feel good, but they also improve sleep habits, increase metabolism, and reduce stress. Therefore, workplace recognition is going to have a beneficial impact on employee well-being and health, which will in turn have positive knock-on effects in terms of employee engagement and motivation.
Furthermore, showing recognition and appreciation to colleagues encourages more social and prosocial interaction. So when employees are shown gratitude in the workplace, they are more likely to spread their positive feelings with their peers, through altruistic and helpful acts – and as acts of kindness in the workplace have been shown to increase work performance and productivity, this is another example of the potential positive impact of implementing a culture of recognition and appreciation in an organisation.
Increasing workplace recognition
Despite the well-established positive effects of workplace recognition, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that only 51% of working Americans felt valued by their employers, while 36% reported receiving no form of recognition in the past 12 months. So it would appear that many employers are not taking advantage of the benefits that workplace recognition and reward can deliver – but there are some simple steps that can be taken, in order to improve employee recognition, and to make it a priority in the workplace:
- Make it personal: there are many different ways in which a employee can be rewarded for their hard work, but the most important thing is that the employee is shown gratitude for their individual contribution – there is a big difference between a company-wide email of appreciation sent to everyone involved in a project, compared to an individually-tailored card, email, note, or meeting, outlining the specific role that an individual has played in achieving a positive outcome for the organisation.
- Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition: acknowledgements from colleagues can be just as valued, if not more valued, than recognition from management. Peer-to-peer recognition programmes can be introduced, which encourage co-workers to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation towards one another – perhaps through one-on-one meetings, group sessions, or feedback forms.
- Do some research and investigation: not all of your workforce will value the same types of recognition. You can learn about what the individual preferences of your employees are through surveys and meetings, and you can therefore find out what types of incentives might motivate the different individuals in the organisation.
- Build recognition skills: familiarise yourself with the characteristics of effective recognition and how to apply them, by talking to HR experts, CEOs, or organisational psychologists – get to know the different types of effective rewards, and how best to implement them in the workplace.
- Make it fun: aside from the more standard incentives and rewards, such as gift cards and bonuses, employees will also appreciate more creative and fun methods of recognition, which don’t have to involve much expense. A rotating trophy or plaque for the best team-player, a fun day out for a whole team, or the renting of a karaoke machine/chocolate fountain are some fun examples, which will demonstrate to employees that time and consideration has gone into making sure that they are acknowledged and shown appreciation.
Guest Author: Counseling Psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Fennel